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Tacitus: Annals Book 13 [40]

40. Meantime Tiridates, ashamed of seeming utterly powerless by not interfering with the siege, and afraid that, in attempting to stop it, he would entangle himself and his cavalry on difficult ground, resolved finally to display his forces and either give battle on the first opportunity, or, by a pretended flight, prepare the way for some stratagem. Suddenly, he threw himself on the Roman columns, without however surprising our general, who had formed his army for fighting as well as for marching. On the right and left flanks marched the third and sixth legions, with some picked men of the tenth in the centre; the baggage was secured within the lines, and the rear was guarded by a thousand cavalry, who were ordered to resist any close attack of the enemy, but not to pursue his retreat. On the wings were the foot-archers and the remainder of the cavalry, with a more extended line on the left wing, along the base of some hills, so that should the enemy penetrate the centre, he might be encountered both in front and flank. Tiridates faced us in skirmishing order, but not within missile-range, now threatening attack, now seemingly afraid, with the view of loosening our formation and falling on isolated divisions. Finding that there was no breaking of our ranks from rashness, and that only one cavalry officer advanced too boldly, and that he falling pierced with arrows, confirmed the rest in obedience by the warning, he retired on the approach of darkness.

40. At Tiridates pudore et metu, ne, si concessisset obsidioni, nihil opis in ipso videretur, si prohiberet, impeditis locis seque et equestres copias inligaret, statuit postremo ostendere aciem et dato die proelium incipere vel simulatione fugae locum fraudi parare. igitur repente agmen Romanum circumfundit, non ignaro duce nostro, qui viae pariter et pugnae composuerat exercitum. latere dextro tertia legio, sinistro sexta incedebat, mediis decimanorum delectis; recepta inter ordines impedimenta, et tergum mille equites tuebantur, quibus iusserat, ut instantibus comminus resisterent, refugos non sequerentur. in cornibus pedes sagittarius et cetera manus equitum ibat, productior cornu sinistro per ima collium, ut, si hostis intravisset, fronte simul et sinu exciperetur. adsultare ex diverso Tiridates, non usque ad ictum teli, sed tum minitans, tum specie trepidantis, si laxare ordines et diversos consectari posset. ubi nihil temeritate solutum, nec amplius quam decurio equitum audentius progressus et sagittis confixus ceteros ad obsequium exemplo firmaverat, propinquis tam tenebris abscessit.

41. Corbulo then encamped on the spot, and considered whether he should push on his legions without their baggage to Artaxata and blockade the city, on which, he supposed, Tiridates had fallen back. When his scouts reported that the king had undertaken a long march, and that it was doubtful whether Media or Albania was its destination, he waited for daylight, and then sent on his light-armed troops, which were meanwhile to hover round the walls and begin the attack from a distance. The inhabitants however opened the gates of their own accord, and surrendered themselves and their property to the Romans. This saved their lives; the city was fired, demolished and levelled to the ground, as it could not be held without a strong garrison from the extent of the walls, and we had not sufficient force to be divided between adequately garrisoning it and carrying on the war. If again the place were left untouched and unguarded, no advantage or glory would accrue from its capture. Then too there was a wonderful occurrence, almost a divine interposition. While the whole space outside the town, up to its buildings, was bright with sunlight, the enclosure within the walls was suddenly shrouded in a black cloud, seamed with lightning-flashes, and thus the city was thought to be given up to destruction, as if heaven was wroth against it. For all this Nero was unanimously saluted emperor, and by the Senate's decree a thanksgiving was held; statues also, arches and successive consulships were voted to him, and among the holy days were to be included the day on which the victory was won, that on which it was announced, and that on which the motion was brought forward. Other proposals too of a like kind were carried, on a scale so extravagant, that Caius Cassius, after having assented to the rest of the honours, argued that if the gods were to be thanked for the bountiful favours of fortune, even a whole year would not suffice for thanksgivings, and therefore there ought to be a classification of sacred and business-days, that so they might observe divine ordinances and yet not interfer with human affairs.

41. Et Corbulo castra in loco metatus, an expeditis legionibus nocte Artaxata pergeret obsidioque circumdaret agitavit, concessisse illuc Tiridaten ratus. dein postquam exploratores attulere longinquum regis iter et Medi an Albani peterentur incertum, lucem opperitur, praemissaque levi[s] armatura, quae muros interim ambiret oppugnationemque eminus inciperet. sed oppidani portis sponte patefactis se suaque Romanis permisere. quod salutem ipsis tulit; Artaxatis ignis immissus deletaque et solo aequata sunt, qui nec teneri [poterant] sine valido praesidio ob magnitudinem moenium, nec id nobis virium erat, quod firmando praesidio et capessendo bello divideretur, vel, si integra et incustodita relinquerentur, nulla in eo utilitas aut gloria, quod capta essent. adicitur miraculum velut numine oblatum: nam cuncta [extra tectis] hactenus sole inlustria fuere; repente quod moenibus cingebatur ita atra nube coopertum fulgoribusque discretum est, ut quasi infensantibus deis exitio tradi crederetur.     Ob haec consal[ut]atus imperator Nero, et senatus consulto supplicationes habitae, statuaeque et arcus et continui consulatus principi, utque inter festos referretur dies, quo patrata victoria, quo nuntiata, quo relatum de ea esset, aliaque in eandem formam decernuntur, adeo modum egressa, ut C. Cassius de ceteris honoribus adsensus, si pro benignitate fortunae dis grates agerentur, ne totum quidem annum supplicationibus sufficere disseruerit, eoque oportere dividi sacros et negotiosos dies, quis divina colerent et humana non impedirent.

42. A man who had struggled with various calamities and earned the hate of many, was then impeached and condemned, but not without angry feelings towards Seneca. This was Publius Suilius. He had been terrible and venal, while Claudius reigned, and when times were changed, he was not so much humbled as his enemies wished, and was one who would rather seem a criminal than a suppliant. With the intent of crushing him, so men believed, a decree of the Senate was revived, along with the penalty of the Cincian law against persons who had pleaded for hire. Suilius spared not complaint or indignant remonstrance; freespoken because of his extreme age as well as from his insolent temper, he taunted Seneca with his savage enmity against the friends of Claudius, under whose reign he had endured a most righteously deserved exile. "The man," he said, "familiar as he was only with profitless studies, and with the ignorance of boyhood, envied those who employed a lively and genuine eloquence in the defence of their fellow-citizens. He had been Germanicus's quaestor, while Seneca had been a paramour in his house. Was it to be thought a worse offence to obtain a reward for honest service with the litigant's consent, than to pollute the chambers of the imperial ladies? By what kind of wisdom or maxims of philosophy had Seneca within four years of royal favour amassed three hundred million sesterces? At Rome the wills of the childless were, so to say, caught in his snare while Italy and the provinces were drained by a boundless usury. His own money, on the other hand, had been acquired by industry and was not excessive. He would suffer prosecutions, perils, anything indeed rather than make an old and self-learned position of honour to bow before an upstart prosperity."

42. Variis deinde casibus iactatus et multorum odia meritus reus, haud tamen sine invidia Senecae damnatur. is fuit Publius Suillius, imperitante Claudio terribilis ac venalis et mutatione temporum non quantum inimici cuperent demissus quique se nocentem videri quam supplicem mallet. eius opprimendi gratia repetitum credebatur senatus consultum poenaque Cinciae legis adversum eos, qui pretio causas oravissent. nec Suillius questu aut exprobratione abstinebat, praeter ferociam animi extrema senecta liber et Senecam increpans infensum amicis Claudii, sub quo iustissimum exilium pertulisset. simul studiis inertibus et iuvenum imperitiae suetum livere iis, qui vividam et incorruptam eloquentiam tuendis civibus exercerent. se quaestorem Germanici, illum domus eius adulterum fuisse. an gravius aestimandum sponte litigatoris praemium honestae operae adsequi quam corrumpere cubicula principum feminarum? qua sapientia, quibus philosophorum praeceptis intra quadriennium regiae amicitiae ter milies sestertium paravisset? Romae testamenta et orbos velut indagine eius capi, Italiam et provincias immenso faenore hauriri: at sibi labore quaesitam et modicam pecuniam esse. crimen, periculum, omnia potius toleraturum, quam veterem ac domi partam dignationem subitae felicitati submittere[t].

43. Persons were not wanting to report all this to Seneca, in the exact words, or with a worse sense put on it. Accusers were also found who alleged that our allies had been plundered, when Suilius governed the province of Asia, and that there had been embezzlement of public monies. Then, as an entire year had been granted to them for inquiries, it seemed a shorter plan to begin with his crimes at Rome, the witnesses of which were on the spot. These men charged Suilius with having driven Quintus Pomponius by a relentless prosecution into the extremity of civil war, with having forced Julia, Drusus's daughter, and Sabina Poppaea to suicide, with having treacherously ruined Valerius Asiaticus, Lusius Saturninus and Cornelius Lupus, in fact, with the wholesale conviction of troops of Roman knights, and with all the cruelty of Claudius. His defence was that of all this he had done nothing on his own responsibility but had simply obeyed the emperor, till Nero stopped such pleadings, by stating that he had ascertained from his father's notebooks that he had never compelled the prosecution of a single person. Suilius then sheltered himself under Messalina's orders, and the defence began to collapse. "Why," it was asked, "was no one else chosen to put his tongue at the service of that savage harlot? We must punish the instruments of atrocious acts, when, having gained the rewards of wickedness, they impute the wickedness to others." And so, with the loss of half his property, his son and granddaughter being allowed to retain the other half, and what they had inherited under their mother's or grandmother's will being also exempted from confiscation, Suilius was banished to the Balearic isles. Neither in the crisis of his peril nor after his condemnation did he quail in spirit. Rumour said that he supported that lonely exile by a life of ease and plenty. When the accusers attacked his son Nerullinus on the strength of men's hatred of the father and of some charges of extortion, the emperor interposed, as if implying that vengeange was fully satisfied.

43. Nec deerant qui haec isdem verbis aut versa in deterius Senecae deferrent. repertique accusatores direptos socios, cum Suillius provinciam Asiam regeret, ac publicae pecuniae peculatum detulerunt. mox, quia inquisitionem annuam impetraverant, brevius visum [sub] urbana crimina incipi, quorum obvii testes erant. ii acerbitate accusationis Q. Pomponium ad necessitatem belli civilis detrusum, Iuliam Drusi filiam Sabinamque Poppaeam ad mortem actas et Valerium Asiaticum, Lusium Saturninum, Cornelium Lupum circumventos, iam equitum Romanorum agmina damnata omnemque Claudii saevitiam Suillio obiectabant. ille nihil ex his sponte susceptum, sed principi paruisse defendebat, donec eam orationem Caesar cohibuit, compertum sibi referens ex commentariis patris sui nullam cuiusquam accusationem ab eo coactam. tum iussa Messalinae praetendi et labare defensio: cur enim neminem alium delectum, qui saevienti impudicae vocem praeberet? puniendos rerum atrocium ministros, ubi pretia scelerum adepti scelera ipsa aliis delegent. igitur adempta bonorum parte (nam filio et nepti pars concedebatur eximebanturque etiam quae testamento matris aut aviae acceperant) in insulas Baleares pellitur, non in ipso discrimine, non post damnationem fractus animo; ferebaturque copiosa et molli vita secretum illud toleravisse. filium eius Nerullinum adgressis accusatoribus per invidiam patris et crimina repetundarum, intercessit princeps tamquam satis expleta ultione.

44. About the same time Octavius Sagitta, a tribune of the people, who was enamoured to frenzy of Pontia, a married woman, bribed her by most costly presents into an intrigue and then into abandoning her husband. He had offered her marriage and had won her consent. But as soon as she was free, she devised delays, pretended that her father's wishes were against it, and having secured the prospect of a richer husband, she repudiated her promises. Octavius, on the other hand, now remonstrated, now threatened; his good name, he protested, was lost, his means exhausted, and as for his life, which was all that was left to him, he surrendered it to her mercy. When she spurned him, he asked the solace of one night, with which to soothe his passion, that he might set bounds to it for the future. A night was fixed, and Pontia intrusted the charge of her chamber to a female slave acquainted with her secret. Octavius attended by one freedman entered with a dagger concealed under his dress. Then, as usual in lovers' quarrels, there were chidings, entreaties, reproaches, excuses, and some period of the darkness was given up to passion; then, when seemingly about to go, and she was fearing nothing, he stabbed her with the steel, and having wounded and scared away the slave girl who was hurrying to her, rushed out of the chamber. Next day the murder was notorious, and there was no question as to the murderer, for it was proved that he had passed some time with her. The freedman, however, declared the deed was his, that he had, in fact, avenged his patron's wrongs. He had made some impression by the nobleness of his example, when the slave girl recovered and revealed the truth. Octavius, when he ceased to be tribune, was prosecuted before the consuls by the father of the murdered woman, and was condemned by the sentence of the Senate under "the law concerning assassins."

44. Per idem tempus Octavius Sagitta plebei tribunus, Pontiae mulieris nuptae amore vaecors, ingentibus donis adulterium et mox, ut omitteret maritum, emercatur, suum matrimonium promittens ac nuptias eius pactus. sed ubi mulier vacua fuit, nectere moras, adversam patris voluntatem causari repertaque spe ditioris coniugis promissa exuere. Octavius contra modo conqueri, modo minitari, famam perditam, pecuniam exhaustam obtestans, denique salutem, quae sola reliqua esset, arbitrio eius permittens. ac postquam spernebatur, noctem unam ad solacium poscit, qua delenitus modum in posterum adhiberet. statuitur nox, et Pontia consciae ancillae custodiam cubiculi mandat. ille uno cum liberto ferrum veste occultum infert. tum, ut adsolet in amore et ira, iurgia preces, exprobratio satisfactio, et pars tenebrarum libidini seposita; ea quasi incensus nihil metuentem ferro transverberat et adcurrentem ancillam vulnere absterret cubiculoque prorumpit. postera die manifesta caedes, haud ambiguus percussor; quippe mansitasse una convincebatur. sed libertus suum illud facinus profiteri, se patroni iniurias ultum esse. commoveratque quosdam magnitudine exempli, donec ancilla ex vulnere refecta verum aperuit. postulatusque apud consules a patre interfectae, postquam tribunatu abierat, sententia patrum et lege de sicariis condemnatur.

45. A profligacy equally notorious in that same year proved the beginning of great evils to the State. There was at Rome one Sabina Poppaea; her father was Titus Ollius, but she had assumed the name of her maternal grandfather Poppaeus Sabinus, a man of illustrious memory and pre-eminently distinguished by the honours of a consulship and a triumph. As for Ollius, before he attained promotion, the friendship of Sejanus was his ruin. This Poppaea had everything but a right mind. Her mother, who surpassed in personal attractions all the ladies of her day, had bequeathed to her alike fame and beauty. Her fortune adequately corresponded to the nobility of her descent. Her conversation was charming and her wit anything but dull. She professed virtue, while she practised laxity. Seldom did she appear in public, and it was always with her face partly veiled, either to disappoint men's gaze or to set off her beauty. Her character she never spared, making no distinction between a husband and a paramour, while she was never a slave to her own passion or to that of her lover. Wherever there was a prospect of advantage, there she transferred her favours. And so while she was living as the wife of Rufius Crispinus, a Roman knight, by whom she had a son, she was attracted by the youth and fashionable elegance of Otho, and by the fact too that he was reputed to have Nero's most ardent friendship. Without any delay the intrigue was followed by marriage.

45. Non minus insignis eo anno impudicitia magnorum rei publicae malorum initium fecit. erat in civitate Sabina Poppaea, T. Ollio patre genita, sed nomen avi materni sumpserat, inlustri memoria Poppaei Sabini consularis et triumphali decore praefulgentis; nam Ollium honoribus nondum functum amicitia Seiani pervertit. huic mulieri cuncta alia fuere praeter honestum animum. quippe mater eius, aetatis suae feminas pulchritudine supergressa, gloriam pariter et formam dederat; opes claritudine generis sufficiebant. sermo comis nec absurdum ingenium. modestiam praeferre et lascivia uti; rarus in publicum egressus, idque velata parte oris, ne satiaret adspectum, vel quia sic decebat. famae numquam pepercit, maritos et adulteros non distinguens; neque adfectui suo aut alieno obnoxia, unde utilitas ostenderetur, illuc libidinem transferebat. igitur agentem eam in matrimonio Rufri Crispi[ni] equitis Romani, ex quo filium genuerat, Otho pellexit iuventa ac luxu et quia flagrantissimus in amicitia Neronis habebatur. nec mora quin adulterio matrimonium iungeretur.

46. Otho now began to praise his wife's beauty and accomplishments to the emperor, either from a lover's thoughtlessness or to inflame Nero's passion, in the hope of adding to his own influence by the further tie which would arise out of possession of the same woman. Often, as he rose from the emperor's table, was he heard repeatedly to say that he was going to her, to the high birth and beauty which had fallen to his lot, to that which all men pray for, the joy of the fortunate. These and like incitements allowed but of brief delay. Once having gained admission, Poppaea won her way by artful blandishments, pretending that she could not resist her passion and that she was captivated by Nero's person. Soon, as the emperor's love grew ardent, she would change and be supercilious, and, if she were detained more than one or two nights, would say again and again that she was a married woman and could not give up her husband attached as she was to Otho by a manner of life, which no one equalled. "His ideas and his style were grand; at his house everything worthy of the highest fortune was ever before her eyes. Nero, on the contrary, with his slave girl mistress, tied down by his attachment to Acte, had derived nothing from his slavish associations but what was low and degrading." Otho was now cut off from Nero's usual familiar intercourse, and then even from interviews and from the royal suite, and at last was appointed governor of the province of Lusitania, that he might not be the emperor's rival at Rome. There he lived up to the time of the civil wars, not in the fashion of his disgraceful past, but uprightly and virtuously, a pleasure-loving man when idle, and self-restrained when in power.

46. Otho sive amore incautus laudare formam elegantiamque uxoris apud principem, sive ut accenderet ac, si eadem femina potirentur, id quoque vinculum potentiam ei adiceret. saepe auditus est consurgens e convivio Caesaris seque ire ad illam, sibi concessam dictitans nobilitatem pulchritudinem, vota omnium et gaudia felicium. his atque talibus inritamentis non longa cunctatio interponitur, sed accepto aditu Poppaea primum per blandimenta et artes valescere, imparem cupidini et forma Neronis captam simulans; mox acri iam principis amore ad superbiam vertens, si ultra unam alteramque noctem attineretur, nuptam esse se dictitans, nec posse matrimonium omittere, devinctam Othoni per genus vitae, quod nemo adaequaret: illum animo et cultu magnificum; ibi se summa fortuna digna visere. at Neronem, paelice ancilla et adsuetudine Actes devinctum, nihil e contubernio servili nisi abiectum et sordidum traxisse. deicitur familiaritate sueta, post congressu et comitatu Otho, et ad postremum, ne in urbe aemulatus ageret, provinciae Lusitaniae praeficitur; ubi usque ad civilia arma non ex priore infamia, sed integre sancteque egit, procax otii et potestatis temperantior.

47. Hitherto Nero had sought a veil for his abominations and wickedness. He was particularly suspicious of Cornelius Sulla, whose apathetic temper he interpreted as really the reverse, inferring that he was, in fact, an artful dissembler. Graptus, one of the emperor's freedmen, whose age and experience had made him thoroughly acquainted with the imperial household from the time of Tiberius, quickened these apprehensions by the following falsehood. The Mulvian bridge was then a famous haunt of nightly profligacy, and Nero used to go there that he might take his pleasures more freely outside the city. So Graptus, taking advantage of an idle panic into which the royal attendants had chanced to have been thrown on their return by one of those youthful frolics which were then everywhere practised, invented a story that a treacherous attack had been planned on the emperor, should he go back by the Flaminian road, and that through the favour of destiny he had escaped it, as he went home by a different way to Sallust's gardens. Sulla, he said, was the author of this plot. Not one, however, of Sulla's slaves or clients was recognised, and his character, despicable as it was and incapable of a daring act, was utterly at variance with the charge. Still, just as if he had been found guilty, he was ordered to leave his country, and confine himself within the walls of Massilia.

47. Hactenus Nero flagitiis et sceleribus velamenta quaesivit. suspectabat maxime Cornelium Sullam, socors ingenium eius in contrarium trahens callidumque et simulatorem interpretando. quem metum Graptus ex libertis Caesaris, usu et senecta Tiberio abusque domum principium edoctus, tali mendacio intendit. pons Mulvius in eo tempore celebris nocturnis inlecebris erat; ven[ti]tabatque illuc Nero, quo solutius urbem extra lasciviret. igitur regredienti per viam Flaminiam compositas insidias fatoque evitatas, quoniam diverso itinere Sallustianos in hortos remeaverit, auctoremque eius doli Sullam ementitur, quia forte redeuntibus ministris principis quidam per iuvenilem licentiam, quae tunc passim exercebatur, inanem metum fecerant. neque servorum quisquam neque clientium Sullae adgnitus, maximeque despecta et nullius ausi capax natura eius a crimine abhorrebat: proinde tamen, quasi convictus esset, cedere patria et Massiliensium moenibus coerceri iubetur.

48. During the same consulship a hearing was given to two conflicting deputations from Puteoli, sent to the Senate by the town council and by the populace. The first spoke bitterly of the violence of the multitude; the second, of the rapacity of the magistrates and of all the chief citizens. That the disturbance, which had gone as far as stoning and threats of fire, might not lead on to bloodshed and armed fighting, Caius Cassius was appointed to apply some remedy. As they would not endure his rigour, the charge of the affair was at his own request transferred to the brothers Scribonii, to whom was given a praetorian cohort, the terror of which, coupled with the execution of a few persons, restored peace to the townspeople.

48. Isdem consulibus auditae Puteolanorum legationes, quas diversas ordo plebs ad senatum miserant, illi vim multitudinis, hi magistratuum et primi cuiusque avaritiam increpantes. eaque seditio ad saxa et minas ignium progressa ne c[aed]em et arma proliceret, C. Cassius adhibendo remedio delectus. quia severitatem eius non tolerabant, precante ipso ad Scribonios fratres ea cura transfertur, data cohorte praetoria, cuius terrore et paucorum supplicio rediit oppidanis concordia.

49. I should not mention a very trivial decree of the Senate which allowed the city of Syracuse to exceed the prescribed number in their gladiatorial shows, had not Paetus Thrasea spoken against it and furnished his traducers with a ground for censuring his motion. "Why," it was asked, "if he thought that the public welfare required freedom of speech in the Senate, did he pursue such trifling abuses? Why should he not speak for or against peace and war, or on the taxes and laws and other matters involving Roman interests? The senators, as often as they received the privilege of stating an opinion, were at liberty to say out what they pleased, and to claim that it should be put to the vote. Was it the only worthy object of reform to provide that the Syracusans should not give shows on a larger scale? Were all other matters in every department of the empire as admirable as if Thrasea and not Nero had the direction of them? But if the highest affairs were passed by and ignored, how much more ought there to be no meddling with things wholly insignificant." Thrasea in reply, when his friends asked an explanation, said "that it was not in ignorance of Rome's actual condition that he sought to correct such decrees, but that he was giving what was due to the honour of the senators, in making it evident that those who attended even to the merest trifles, would not disguise their responsibility for important affairs."

49. Non referrem vulgarissimum senatus consultum, quo civitati Syracusanorum egredi numerum edendis gladiatoribus finitum permittebatur, nisi Paetus Thrasea contra dixisset praebuissetque materiem obtrectatoribus arguendae sententiae. cur enim, si rem publicam egere libertate senatoria crederet, tam levia consectaretur? quin de bello aut pace, de vectigalibus et legibus, quibusque aliis [res] Romana continetur, suaderet dissuaderetve? licere patribus, quotiens ius dicendae sententiae accepissent, quae vellent expromere relationemque in ea postulare. an solum emendatione dignum, ne Syracusis spectacula largius ederentur: cetera per omnes imperii partes perinde egregia quam si non Nero, sed Thrasea regimen eorum teneret? quod si summa dissimulatione transmitterentur, quanto magis inanibus abstinendum! Thrasea contra, rationem poscentibus amicis, non praesentium ignarum respondebat eius modi consulta corrigere, sed patrum honori dare, ut manifestum fieret magnarum rerum curam non dissimulaturos, qui animum etiam levissimis adverterent.

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